Not too long ago, the Los Angeles Galaxy were threatening to run away with the MLS season. The club was far ahead on points. In game after game, forward Edson Buddle was seemingly scoring at will and team captain Landon Donovan was giving away assists like Halloween candy.
It seemed the team was doing so well, that they almost didn't need the services of - what was his name, again?
Ah, yes. David Beckham.
Injured while on his extended loan to A.C. Milan, reduced to being England's cheerleader at the World Cup, the originator of the 'Beckham Rule' that began the exodos of European stars to MLS had suddenly become almost irrelevant as a player.
Indeed, with the signing of Thierry Henry, the New York Red Bulls took great pains to specify that they expected Henry to have a big impact 'on the field' and that he 'has come to play and win', almost implying that those elements would set Henry apart from Beckham, and thus insinuating that Beckham's signing was mostly hype.
Truth be told, Beckham's biggest league impact has in fact been how he has pioneered the way for other stars to join MLS. The world's notice of the league grew once he penned his name on his Galaxy contract, and yes, that probably helped pave the way for the current wave of signings. Still, as useful as that positive exposure as Beckham's seal of approval was for MLS, it was somewhat negated by Beckham's fleeing to Italy for his AC Milan stints within two years.
It's arguable that Beckham has yet to find his groove with the league. His first season, in 2007, was plaugued by injury - his second, by a coach, Ruud Gulit, whose ignorance of the American soccer scene led to him patronizing and alienating many of Beckham's teammates. The player turnover on the squad has been immense, leaving Beckham, despite his Continental juants, one of the senior members. 2009 did see the Galaxy go to the MLS championship final, but many people remember Beckham wheezing into his ventilator as the memorable image of that event.
Leadership doesn't take place in absentia, though, and with Beckham absent not only for preseason, but also the entire first half of the season, he couldn't take any credit for the Galaxy's sizzling start to the year. If anything, Beckham seemed a bit superfluous, and while LA fans were sympathetic when he was injured earlier this year, it was more out of concern for Beckham having his World Cup dream dashed. The team, many believed, would be just fine without him.
Except now, of course, the Galaxy are anything but fine. Their mojo has gone AWOL, their momentum has derailed, and the former juggernaut squad now seems vulnerable - even fragile. They still hold first place in the league, but only barely.
While Beckham doesn't seem like the type to wish any ill on a team he plays for, he must recognize what some already have. The Galaxy's struggles of late have created an opportunity for Beckham to make a big impact as he starts his injury comeback.
With Beckham serving his trademark crosses into Buddle, or finding a breaking Donovan with a long pass over the defense, the Galaxy could be poised to bounce back. It's a heroic scenario, but Beckham has risen to the occasion before.
Sure, this summer, the fuss is all about the new MLS signings.
However, this could be the year that one old signing, Beckham, proves that he's worth all that fuss about him by proving it on the field.
Andrea Canales is Chief Editor of Goal.com North America and is trying to remember to update her Twitter account.
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